Tucked away along the northern coast of Cuba, halfway between Varadero and Havana lies an area called Jibacoa. The region is secluded by dense lush green mountains that engulf the entire area. This remote area boasts only two resorts, Memories Jibacoa and Villas Jibacoa Both are located next to each other.
Villa Jibacoa is a diamond in the rough. The resort is spread out in mostly villa style bungalows that offer large size rooms, as well as a private sitting terraces. The rooms are clean and all equipped with a mini fridge, satellite television and also include a cigar and bottle of rum. We’d highly recommend staying in the bungalows as it is a bit more private than staying in the resorts tower rooms. Our only complaint was that the beds were on the harder side, which made sleeping a bit difficult for one of the members of our group. Blankets are available in the closet. The pillows are a bit worn. I regretted not bringing my travel sized foam pillow. The showers were clean daily and always provided hot water. Toilet paper was available in all rooms, but sometimes the pool or lobby ran out so it’s worthwhile to carry some on you, just in case. The resort provided soap, but we brought our own toiletries. If you forget something, you can pick it up in the store connected to the resort. They also sell sunscreen, alcohol and cigarettes. We bought our alcohol there to bring back home, it was around $7 for a bottle of Havana Club Special.
The resort felt like going to a beach cottage back home that serves you all inclusive drinks and food. The vibe was nothing like going to a major tourist area like Varadero or Cancun. Initially it felt a little weird, having been to Varadero before. After a day or two, we relished in the fact that we were far from the crowded tourists resorts. This isn’t a party resort, which most guests seem to prefer. While there’s music around the pool and nightly theater shows, it’s not a spring break type of place. The staff are courteous and work hard to make sure you’re happy and having a good time. Be sure to find Rudy and ask for a Spanish coffee, he kills it, every time! Everyone tended to say the drinks at the pool bar were the best, but we found the lobby bar to be more consistent. The best part about the lobby bar is that it is open 24/7! The food is above average for what you’d expect of a Cuban three star. Breakfast offers boiled eggs, french toast, pancakes and fresh bed consistently. There is an omlette station that will make omlettes or fried eggs. The sides vary a lot. We saw butternut squash, sausage, cheese, ham, sometimes yuca or potatoes.We suggest bringing some maple syrup for the french toast and pancakes if you’re used to it. Or some small packages of berry jam. One day we had croquettas which are delicious and went so fast! The fruits were limited to papaya and pineapple, because of Hurricane Irma we never got a variety more than that. This was the only thing we were sad about, as we were both looking forward to eating mangos and other fresh fruit. The gardener brought us fresh coconuts twice though, and after drinking the water he cut them so we can scoop out the young coconut flesh inside. It was delicious.
After a five days, it can become monotonous as all buffets would. If you’re looking for some advice on how to make food more enjoyable while in Cuba, check out our post here. Also, there’s two recommended restaurants in the area that we were directed to but didn’t get a chance to visit, the Transat rep or reception can help make a reservation for you. Every night there was various types of pork, fish, and chicken. We preferred eating at the snack bar, which also doubles as the resorts only a la carte. There was always hamburgers, pizzas, ham sandwiches and sometimes tostones or potatoes. For what Villas Jibacoa charges per person, the value to cost ratio for this resort is very high. It was extremely affordable, especially for a large group of us to go away somewhere for an entire week, that included flights, transfers, food, alcohol, etc. If you’re curious about the major difference between a Cuban 3 star and a 4 star, you can read about it here! There is no Wi-Fi at this resort but there is one computer in the lobby, which you can access by buying internet cards from the front desk. If you want to use Wi-Fi on your devices, take your card and head to Memories next door and sit in their lobby, or try to connect by taking a walk along the beach. If you have time leftover on your card be sure to bring it with you to Havana, as you can access the internet via several places in Old Havana. There’s two options to see Havana, one is a $50 per person tour that is booked through your Transat rep, and the other is hiring a private driver for $70. We opted with the Transat tour as we were travelling in a large group and we would have had to order two cars instead of one. The tour also included lunch, which was simple but prepared with effort.
In terms of activities kayaking is free and diving is $25 with a free 30 minute lesson in the pool. There’s a tennis court and horseback riding available by one of the farmers up the street. We also heard the massages here are fantastic! Although, we didn’t get one on this trip there’s a massage therapist who operates out of a hut by the beach who charges $20 per hour! If you’re looking for a more spa vibe, you should be able to make an appointment next store at Memories. A few of the restaurants are walk able, so be sure to leave the resort at some point. We passed by a few homes that doubled as gift shops. It’s a great opportunity to buy some souvenirs and interact with the locals.
Booking this resort is a bit of a trade off in some ways, as you’re sacrificing a nicer beach for snorkelling opportunities. The beach was adequate for a quick dip, but it isn’t anything like you may or will experience in Varadero. What you give up in beach, you more than gain in snorkelling. The reef is not too far from the shore, so it’s possible to swim out for five minutes and be right on top of it. The resort suggests you wear water shoes, and this is a great idea, even if you plan on not going out that far. Going to the resort is a bit of a gamble as well, if you’re banking solely on snorkelling as your main reason for going, as we experienced 7 consistent days of red flags. This is not the resorts fault, as most of the eastern sea border was getting pounded with a storm that trickled its way down into Florida and eventually hit us in Cuba.
The red flag at the resort comes out for two reasons, the first being that the wind is too strong creating too many waves. The other reason is for jellyfish. One of the days we were at the resort we noticed tons of blue man o wars that washed up on the shore. The wind was barreling that day, so we wouldn’t have been able to get in the water anyway. Check with the resort staff as to why the red flag is out, so you can decide for yourself if you want to get in the water.
We spent most of the days sitting by the pool and reading. The resort recently added a second pool a few years back and have been making improvements. The ocean was always warm, even on chilly and windy days, but the pool is unheated, so getting in it wasn’t always possible. Since the ocean was off limits almost the entire vacation, we spent very little time in the water. I love to swim, so this was moderately annoying. Though, the weather still allowed us to be in shorts most of the time instead of snowsuits back home, so it wasn’t all that bad! January and February are Cuba’s winter months, so using the pool is less of an issue if you go in the warmer months between March to December. It’s a good tip for any traveller to consider booking a hotel or resort with a heated pool when travelling to the Caribbean during the winter months, as the weather can be unpredictable as back home. We would definitely come back to this resort if the price was right and it was during the warmer months, as we could spend some time in the water!